The Genre Of Hope

The London Screenwriters’ Festival twitter account recently asked a very interesting question; what is the greatest film genre?

And yes, I know, comparisons are odious and all that… (Hey, wait, I just quoted Evelyn Waugh and John Donne at the same time. Does that mean I’m an intellectual now?)  On the whole I’m not a big fan of Top Tens and  Greatest Ever Blah and “this is better than that” of any kind. The urge to line things up in a definite order and crow over which beats which is not conducive to craft, let alone art.

But it did occur to me that there’s a real answer to this question. And the answer is science fiction.

Why? Because science fiction is the genre of hope.

Horror peers into the abyss of the human heart, drama examines the minutiae of everyday life, historical fiction tells us where we came from (all fascinating things, of course) –  but only science fiction can explore the full potential of the human mind and heart, both for evil and for good. Science fiction tells us who we are, who we’re capable of becoming, and what we need to conquer, in the world and in ourselves, to get there. And that’s why I write it.

You Don’t Have To Be Crazy, But…

One of the funniest things about writers is that we’re largely unaware of our working processes. We do stuff, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we often have very little sense of how we create ideas and what the best way is for us to work on them.

I’ve recently become painfully aware that every now and then, I become childishly obsessed with a current movie. I watch it repeatedly, irrespective of whether it’s any good or not. It dominates my creative thought processes for weeks. I buy crappy magazines just because they contain an article about it. I’ve even been known to dream about it.

And what seems to be going on is that my imagination has identified a tiny nugget of interest and is processing it in some way, expanding on it, and eventually creating a whole new character or story idea.

Eventually, the movie falls away, and I’m left with a totally original idea, often in a different genre  – inspired by one line of dialogue, a single image, even the look on an actor’s face.

So I figure it’s time for us all to come clean. Fellow writers, what are your crazy writing habits? In what weird ways are you compelled to feed your creative processes? I’m not the only one, right?

(deafening silence)

Right…?

Writing For Children’s Television event, Birmingham

If you’re around Birmingham on Friday 14th June, you can see me, Wolfblood script editor Jonathan Wolfman, and Cheryl Taylor, controller of CBBC, talking about writing for children’s television at a Writer’s Guild event. You can find more details, and book a place, via 

http://www.writersguild.org.uk/news-a-features/events/397-writing-for-childrens-television-birmingham

Should be an excellent evening, and I hope to see some of you there!

Wolfblood wins a Royal Television Society award!

RTS

 

Yup, that’s me at the Royal Television Society awards, where Wolfblood won Best Children’s Drama, and I made a very bad speech, and then met Steven Moffat and geeked out a bit. The glamorous life of a writer, eh?

Seriously, though, it’s fantastic for the first season of the show to have attracted so much attention, including two other award nominations and this win. We intend to keep up the good work!

I’d Just Like To Thank…

It must be that time of year, because Wolfblood has been nominated for a couple of awards! First up, we’re nominated for a Royal Television Society (North East branch) award, and I’ll be attending the ceremony on 2nd March.

Secondly, we’re nominated for Favourite UK TV Show in the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. Won’t be able to attend that one, alas…

The Kids Choice Award is decided by online vote, and – while I couldn’t possibly suggest who you should vote for – if you want to vote in our category, you can do so at http://kca.nick.co.uk/vote#category:Favourite_UK_TV_Show …

Delighted To Meet You…

Character development has always been the thing I find it hardest to do up front. Most of my characters have developed slowly over the life of the script, which is fine when you’re writing a spec with no one to answer to but yourself – but a little awkward when your script editor or producer has a thousand perfectly justified questions for which you have no answers!

So for my next spec, I’m making a concerted effort to work on the characters while I’m still in the brainstorming stage – that is, while I’m gathering random thoughts, scraps of dialogue, photos, and scribbled notes, assembling the fragments of my idea, but before any real decisions have been made.

One way I’m using is to ask myself questions about the characters. Hardly a new idea – it’s recommended by practically every writing guru – but it’s a technique I’ve never liked much until now. Turns out the key to getting it to work is – ask the right questions.

Our immediate instinct is to ask our characters the kinds of questions we’d ask someone we’d just been introduced to. Where are you from, are you married, do you have children, what do you do…

These are the wrong questions. For a start, they’ll largely be dictated by the plot: the action hero whose daughter is kidnapped has to be a father, and probably a husband or divorcee, whereas the heroine of a rom-con is unlikely to be happily married.

But the main problem is, the answers these questions generate are not specific to your character. Thousands of people live in London or New York or Lahore; most people are probably in a relationship most of the time; someone’s job doesn’t actually tell you that much about them.

No, our job as writers is to ask the questions we wouldn’t ever dare ask a new acquaintance. To demand to know the kinds of things about them that, in real life, would have to be freely offered, if they were ever shared at all.

One thing I’m finding particularly useful is to concentrate on questions that bring to mind events or memories from your character’s life. For example, “Last time you took someone on a date, where did you go and what did you do?” or “What subject or skill did you go out of your way to learn?”

After all, we’re storytellers, and once we start envisaging that wonderful (or disastrous) date, or visualising our character aged twelve, hanging round the neighbourhood chop shop to learn how to ring cars, we’re creating a story.

Stories stick in our heads better than dry facts – they stick in everyone’s heads, that’s why society evolved them, but we should be even more susceptible to them than most. Stories illustrate character, embody ways of thinking and acting, showcase dialogue, and place our characters in action so we can see who they really are. Just like your script is going to.

Also, using questions to create stories allows us to dig into our characters from the outside in. Rather than deciding that a character is shy, then giving him external (possibly cliched) characteristics that show that, we can let him loose in a situation, and find out whether he really is shy, or whether something else is going on.

So when you’re digging into your characters, look for questions about them that will lead to stories from their past or present, and that’s where you’ll really start to discover them.

So, What’s Going On With Wolfblood?

Been a bit quiet on here recently, mainly because I’ve been in London dealing with the tail end of Wolfblood season one. So this is just a quick entry to bring you all up to date.

Our wonderful visual effects bods are wrangling pixels as we speak, and on Thursday I saw the first two episodes fully graded, mixed and generally ready for the small screen. Only I saw them on a big screen, in a screening room, which was rather wonderful. Who doesn’t want to see their vision ten feet high? The directors and the team have made both the locations and our cast look fantastic, and the newly added score was pretty splendid!

I also had a chance to meet some of our European co-producers, and learn a few things about the television landscape on the European mainland. (Fun fact: Midsomer Murders is huge in Germany. Who would have thought it?)

Though alas, the writers’ room plan to sell an Australian spin-off series so we all get free holidays Down Under is not going well. Dingo-blood, anyone?

No?

Anyone…?

The transmission dates are still a closely guarded secret (or maybe they just haven’t decided yet. Closely guarded secret sounds better, so I’m going with that.) But sometime this autumn. More updates from me on Twitter – @DebbieBMoon –  and on the blog, as soon as I have more information…

The Fiddle Game

Thanks to Sherman Cymru and Aberystwyth Arts Centre, last night saw one of my occasional hesitant digressions into theatre.  The Sherman is running a theatre writing programme called Spread The Word in venues around Wales, finding writers relatively new to theatre and putting them through a five week writing course.  The writers then turn in a short piece of writing, either a complete piece or an extract from something longer, and three pieces are chosen for a public rehearsed reading.

So last night, Tony Jones, Catrin Fleur Huws, and I saw our masterpieces performed to a small but friendly audience, and were then dragged on stage to answer questions and receive feedback.  All jolly good fun –

But actually, seeing my piece performed reminded me of a question I’ve been asking myself for a while.  My piece was about a group of conmen (and women) who gather for a ‘job interview’ to join the world’s most revered grifter and his crew, only to start to suspect that the situation is rather more complicated than they thought.

So, judging from last night, confidence tricksters work reasonably well on stage.  They certainly work on TV – Hustle has been a huge hit in the UK, and Leverage (one of my all time favourite shows) is an equivalent hit in the US.  Not to mention shows like White Collar, Psych, and even Burn Notice, all of which draw on the “big con” – false identities, elaborate schemes, obtaining information or money by deception – to some extent.

So why aren’t there more movies about con men?

Yes, yes, The Sting, I know.  A huge hit in its time, and a classic piece of cinema.  But apart from that?  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a recent movie about grifters that’s been a real commercial success.  The Argentinean Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) is a clever and emotionally engaging film, but really only played to the artwork crowd, and an English language remake, Criminal, never really found an audience – possibly due to that bland, uninformative title?  The Brothers Bloom vanished without trace, and so did corporate espionage caper Duplicity, a grifting movie in all but name.

So what’s going on?  If Leverage can stuff an average of two cons, a heist, and a fight sequence into 42 minutes, it can’t be that cons are too complex to fit into a feature length movie.  Is it that we find it hard to bond with a central character who spends half the movie pretending to be someone else?  But spies do that, and we love spy movies…

No, I’m genuinely stumped on this one.  Over to you, my valiant readers.  Why are there so few successful con movies?

Coming To A Screen Near You…

After months of telling people I *could* tell them about my new series for CBBC, but then I’d have to kill them, the official announcement.  BBC press release at –

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2012/030212wolfblood.html

I do intend to blog more about how Wolfblood made it to the screen, but right now, it’s final rewrites on episode five for me!  So, more later…